Recently, a reader wrote in with a question that felt really compelling: In this #MeToo moment, what do you do if you’re married to a man that doesn’t consider himself to be a feminist? I recently wrote about my struggles talking to my husband about the complex and varied issues around #MeToo. But at the end of the day, I’m married to a Progressive, who’s considered himself to be a feminist for as long as he can remember. (H/T to the feminist moms out there, raising feminist boys.)
So while we wanted to talk about this issue, nobody on the APW staff had a clean or simple answer to it… and some of us had wildly different opinions. So while we want to open the discussion to you, some of the smartest folks on the the Internet, we also decided to round up the variety of staff opinions on the subject, to get the discussion started.
But first, here is Katie’s question:
I’m loving all of the feminist discussion on APW lately. That being said, I think there is a gap that I would love to see discussed. It seems like right now there are two types of men.
1. The feminist men who might not get fully it. Those guys might need some education or enlightenment around microaggressions and systemic sexism, and on why their lack of action and awareness is an issue.
2. The [typically] Republican White Old Man who is the one doing All The Sexist Things (i.e., the ones in the news for assault).
But what about the regular guys? The ones who aren’t really feminists and aren’t concerned by or interested in hearing about systemic sexism. The guys who might have made some less-than-consensual or unaware-sexist choices in the past (and maybe even feel guilty about them now), but on the whole aren’t the ones we should be chasing with pitchforks and demanding consequences. The ones that aren’t doing the big bad stuff, but certainly are complicit in maintaining the status quo through inaction. These guys don’t deserve to be cut out of our lives, but also as feminists, we can’t condone their behavior either.
So what about those of us who are married or in relationships with these men? Because I can’t imagine that people are getting divorced over that time your husband was inappropriate with women in the workplace, or pressured a girl into sex a decade ago. People like Meg’s husband just need more awareness, but they are on your side. And the Harveys of the world are going to get what’s coming to them. But what about everyone else? I’d love to hear your thoughts, because honestly it’s these interactions that I find to be the most tiring.
There is a ton to unpack here, but here are some thoughts from our team:
As you seem to have deduced, I’m probably not the person who is going to give you the answer you’re looking for. Because my short answer is I married someone who generally both talks the feminist talk and walks the feminist walk (not without flaws of course, but that’s to be expected with any ally). I wouldn’t have married a man that didn’t, because it’s not something I can live with. So in total honesty, I would divorce the person we’re calling a “regular guy” here. That doesn’t mean you should, of course, but that is my deepest personal answer.
My main issue is less that a guy maybe said something inappropriate once—because we’re all learning, all the time. But I couldn’t stay married to someone who wasn’t interested in understanding systematic oppression, of all kinds.
The one thing I do want to draw into question here is the idea that some of these guys maybe “pressured a girl into sex a decade ago.” That is rape, or at least sexual assault, and that is something that I don’t think any woman should be comfortable with. Not unless their partner is willing to dig deep, do the work, attempt to make amends (both to the person they harmed and to women in general). No woman is to blame for her partner’s sexual misconduct, but we each have to decide what we can live with, and how much work we expect our partners to do to try to repair the damage they may have done.
I painted my husband as a bad feminist for a long time, because he wouldn’t call himself a feminist. But when I put it down on paper, he agreed to give his kid my last name. He goes out of his way to hire women. He trusts women figures of authority (his doctor, etc.). In short, he wouldn’t call himself a feminist, but I would. In fact, I’ve actually seen a lot of self-avowed feminist partners who used that feminist identity as a shield for decidedly un-feminist behavior. (Like my friend’s boyfriend who identifies as a feminist, but then always talks over women in group settings.) So I feel like you have to assume every single male you know is complicit in some way, and then figure out what level they are on and what you can live with. I’d much rather prioritize that the men in my life walk the walk, rather than talk the talk. (Though in an ideal world, I’d take both.)
As for you, if you’re a feminist and you’re married to a man, and you’re doing the work, well, you’re already doing the work. And make no mistake, it is WORK.
You treat this the same way you treat the casual racist in your family; the person who isn’t a neo-Nazi but who has dressed in blackface for Halloween that one time in college, or the one who still crosses the street when they see “those people” walking toward them. You call them on their shit every damn time and you do not let up. You talk about why their behavior, whether it was passive or active, was unacceptable. You help them understand why it was wrong and what they can/should do to make sure it never happens again. And then you pay attention and see if they’ve really learned and changed.
I don’t want to read too much into statements that may be rhetorical, but I think regardless whether they identify as a feminist, it’s crucial to any relationship that your partner listen to you about the things that are important to you and is on your side at the end of the day. Secondly, when I think of the men I know that have shady things in their past but in general are good people, husbands, and fathers, I keep coming back to this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” When talking about systemic problems it’s easy to generalize people into types, but every single incident comes down to individuals making choices—and often mistakes—based on their own unique path through life. I mean, humans are kind of well known to be deeply flawed and a mess of contradictions. Also, what Jareesa said.
Now we’re passing the question to y’all. How do you deal with the not-super-woke men in your life? If you’re married to one, how are you handling that in the wake of #MeToo?